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Windows 8 iPad killers: Round 1

Be careful what you wish for: Windows 8 tablets that promise to offer a twofer tablet-laptop device -- something not offered by Apple on the iPad -- are here. But are they up to the task?

Acer Iconia 510 in its laptop configuration.
Acer Iconia 510 in its laptop configuration. CNET

The iPad-killing Windows 8 tablet-laptop has arrived. Problem is, most aren't ready to dispatch the iPad -- or the MacBook Air for that matter -- yet.

So far, reviewers of shape-shifting Windows 8 tablets have not been kind. Otherwise known as "detachables," the devices can take the form of a standalone tablet or attach to a keyboard base to become a close facsimile of a full-fledged laptop.

And one of the key selling points -- if not the key selling point -- is that you can run all your favorite Windows applications. In other words, this isn't application-deprived Windows RT.

The fly in the ointment is Intel's underwhelming Atom Z2760 processor, which presents itself as a kind of paradox: it promises to run any legacy Windows application, but it doesn't really deliver.

CNET's review of the HP Envy x2, titled Half-tablet, half-laptop, all Atom, summarized the x2 this way: "a slower Atom processor means in performance it's far behind most ultrabooks, even though it's priced like one."

Another review, at Wired, of a similarly configured Acer Iconia W510 is even harsher:

"The W510 benchmarks at about a quarter of the speed on general apps versus the typical Windows 8 laptop shipping today, and it really can't run any graphics benchmarks at all."

And how about the Samsung Ativ 500T? ExtremeTech calls it "ridiculously underpowered."

The review continues: "Real Work is nuked by desktop lag, performance stuttering, and a ludicrously small amount of storage."

Yep, storage is another problem. Some of these detachables come with flash drives that are only 32GB or 64GB. That leaves precious little space to store applications after Windows 8 has occupied a disproportionately large part of the drive's real estate.

So, that's the bad news. Luckily, alternatives are emerging.

Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet -- due to arrive next Saturday, February 9 -- sports a fast laptop-class Ivy Bridge chip. And Samsung has the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T: a speedy detachable with the same chip. (See review here.)

And expect more products like this when Intel's more battery-friendly Haswell chip lands in the summer. Also, a new Atom is on the way -- probably late this year -- that has a completely revamped (read: faster) processor architecture and will be offered in quad-core variants.

Lastly, remember that the systems mentioned above are not "convertibles" like the Lenovo Yoga, Asus Taichi, or HP Revolve. Those are laptops first, tablets second and, accordingly, offer laptop-level performance.

And maybe convertibles and touch-screen laptops are the best that PC makers can offer for now. A shot at laptop-tablet nirvana will have to wait until Round 2.

The Iconia 510 as a standalone tablet.
The Iconia 510 as a standalone tablet. CNET